Farewell To British Game Design Legend Mike Singleton

By Jim Rossignol on October 16th, 2012 at 10:00 am.


Very sad news. British programmer and game designer Mike Singleton has died, aged 61. Singleton will perhaps be best remembered for a series of remarkably ambitious ZX Spectrum titles including The Lords of Midnight, Doomdark’s Revenge, and War In Middle-Earth. Personally I was enormously influenced by his Midwinter games for 16-bit home computers – pioneering works of procedural generation and designs of immense scope that have to this day defined for me what games could and should be. With those games alone Singleton made an extraordinary contribution to the depth and diversity of game development. Singleton worked in game development into the 21st century, contributing to games on the Playstation and Xbox 360.

Mr Singleton died in Switzerland on Wednesday 10th October. He had been suffering from cancer.

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87 Comments »

  1. MiniMatt says:

    Very sad; thoughts to his family & friends.

    It’s no exaggeration to say that a generation, of which I’m a part, grew up as gamers and coders due to playing his games rather than running around outside or other such nonsense.

    EDIT: Just to add, there are very very few games designers whose names enter general gamer knowledge. I couldn’t tell you the names of the lead designers in a good 95% of the games I have owned over the years, but Singleton was one of those who were rightly known for creating worlds. Sid Meier, Mike Singleton, David Braben & Ian Bell all created believeable worlds and universes out of so little.

    It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that Mike Singleton will remain in the history books as one of the founding fathers of computer game design.

    • Zunt says:

      It is night and Rorthron the Wise has found shelter. He sleeps.

    • wodin says:

      That list of designers\developers is a list from my childhood when games spurred the imagination and anything felt possible in them. Unlike now where we know the restrictions and bigs and flaws and nothing is new and exciting anymore. A true golden age of pc gaming that I’m glad I was old enough to experience.

      Young gamers (well those say 35 and below wont have any idea what it felt like back then to play a game)

      • Arbodnangle Scrulp says:

        Cleaning your shoebox cassette recorder’s tape heads with a cotton wool bud soaked in isopropyl alcohol so that the game would actually load after three 10 minute attempts, and keeping a jewellers screwdriver handy to adjust the tracking (an arcane art at best). Then I got the Sinclair MicroDrive and the game would load in under 2 minutes almost every time!

        One of the few things that my brother and I bonded over, I have fond memories of LoM and DDR. My respect to Mike Singleton and my sympathies to his family and friends. To think of the size of the universes that people like him and Braben/Bell could fit into less memory than a singing birthday card has these days makes you wonder what went wrong with programming over the last couple of decades.

        • MadTinkerer says:

          “what went wrong with programming over the last couple of decades.”

          Over-reliance on third party graphic libraries, operating system bloat, needing to relearn graphics drivers just to put pixels on the screen, platform bloat (java, etc.) are a few offenders. But the number one worst of all was realtime 3D coming along and fucking everything up for the individual and small teams because detailed realtime 3D is exponentially more work instead of additively more work.

          On the positive side, it’s never been easier to do multiplatform development, find people who can help work on parts you’re not good at, discover free tutorials on the web instead of being forced to physically travel to university libraries, and so on. The Endless September does have it’s upside.

          But yeah: in general, we’re not utilising PCs remotely as efficiently as we were forced to back in the 80s.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Try “the IBM PC”. Why are the abstractions provided by an operating system and its drivers essential? Because the hardware isn’t standard.

            (I mean, even without, you want multiplexing and sandboxing if you want any kind of stability, security, and multitasking, but let’s not let convenient features get in the way of a good old rant about bloat, eh?)

          • MadTinkerer says:

            Well if you want to go there, it wasn’t the IBM PC’s fault. That had standard hardware. It was the IBM compatible PC that started the whole nonstandard hardware thing.

            But my real point was that it wasn’t the bloating of the OS and drivers and things underlying the programs so much as the bloating of development teams because of the demand to make things pretty. Which, okay I didn’t make clear but I meant to. Because it ties back into Mr. Singleton’s accomplishments during an era where it was easier to keep up with the graphical standard of the time.

    • cliffski says:

      Well said. A sad day. Lords of midnight is one of the reasons I am a game designer.

  2. frightlever says:

    Well that sucks.

    Mike Singleton designed Starnet which was a very early, very basic, wonderfully cut-throat 4X game on Micronet (on-line Ceefax from about three decades ago). Easily my, and many others, first exposure to on-line gaming.

    The Lords of Midnight games had me hooked for months.

    RIP.

  3. Lekker Pain says:

    Sad news really.. May his soul rest in peace.

  4. Jae Armstrong says:

    Well, shit.

    Still hoping for a Lords of Midnight remake one of these days.

  5. RobF says:

    Yup, just saddening news. Mike was an inspiration.

    RIP Mike.

  6. terry says:

    R.I.P. Great memories of the Lords of Midnight games and War In Middle Earth.

  7. Hoaxfish says:

    Have to say I’ve never heard of him, or any of the games he worked on according to Wikipedia (I recognise only a handful of the companies he worked for over the years)… but I think any British devs from that era deserves some respect.

  8. wodin says:

    RIP. I remember playing LoM on my mates spectrum..I had a BBC B so didn’t have it myself.

    If you haven’t heard of LoM your not old like me. It was a massive ground breaking game pushing the spectrum to it’s limits.

    In a time when designers are seen as gods and overhyped these days this was a proper designer who was there near the start.

  9. oceanclub says:

    “It is night and Rorthron the Wise has found shelter. He sleeps.”

    I’ve something in my eye…

    Being a Speccy kid, Lords of Midnight was such a huge game. You mightn’t have finished it or even played it that much but its reputation hung over everything else.

    P.

  10. Jams O'Donnell says:

    The Midwinter games really were wonderful, even though I think I was too young to really understand how to play the first one very well. It is one of the few series I look back on and genuinely think “somebody should make a modern version of that.”

    • rapier17 says:

      Ah I just loved going skiing, felt like the world was huge!

      A sad loss for gaming.

    • MrThingy says:

      I remember playing Midwinter as a child and believing that a whole world was being generated inside my ST. (which, in a sense, was completely true).

      I’ve had a lifelong interest in fractals since then, and always kept up with what Mike Singleton was working on.

      I’d hoped a sequel to Ashes of Empire would appear at some point. I used to love watching the map slowly come under my control. :)

      Farewell Mike.

    • neolith says:

      I really loved Midwinter and clearly remember wasting my time just skiing around for the fun of it. The ability to choose any kind of transportation felt so rewarding at the time.

    • Bonedwarf says:

      Midwinter 2 is, along with SWOS and Cannon Fodder, my Amiga crown jewels. The games that I go “THOSE! THOSE were the best games I ever played on the Amiga.”

      Midwinter 2 gave you an open world, tons of vehicles, fairly good plot (though the gender’s were screwed up meaning you could seduce women as a female agent. Enter my agent, Debra Dyke. I was young.) and a thoroughly captivating game. In fact only recently I was thinking “Just Cause 2 is the closest we’ve come to Midwinter 2.” But even then it’s fairly wide of the mark. A game like MW2 would never be made these days.

      I still play it from time to time, though obviously not properly as it’s hard to get into it casually.

      Really should get back into it given I’m on a major nostalgia kick lately.

      This death, for me, is as sad as Richard Joseph’s was. An icon has died.

  11. rocketman71 says:

    Fucking cancer. Loved War in the Middle Earth and Starlord in their time.

    RIP, Mike. You died too young.

  12. Ravenger says:

    I had the pleasure of working with Mike for a time some years ago, when he was a director of Philips Media’s Curved Logic studio, so I am saddened and shocked at this news.

    I met (and lunched with) him on several occasions, and he was always a gentleman, friendly and full of enthusiasm and ideas.

    I remember showing him a conversion of Lords Of Midnight on my Psion Series 3a palmtop, and he was amazed that someone went to the time and trouble to create it, and how incredible it was that a small portable computer was capable of running a conversion of his game.

    So long Mike, you are missed, but your spirit lives on in your games.

  13. Grubblik says:

    A true loss to the world, I am sad to hear of his passing. Farewell Mike and thank you for the journeys you took me on and the inspiration you gave.

  14. skuwiph says:

    Many fond memories from LoM, sat next to my Speccy-owning school chum, peering at a 14″ B&W television and arguing about the best course of action. Don’t think we ever managed to beat that game…

    This news makes me sadder than I would have expected. Deepest commiserations to his family and friends.

  15. Lobotomist says:

    RIP

    One of the legends :(

  16. wodin says:

    Lords of Midnight PC conversions below..You need dos box..or download the pocket PC version but you need 32 bit OS..

    http://www.icemark.com/

    • Arbodnangle Scrulp says:

      Thank you wodin, you read my mind and saved me a lot of bother looking for them myself.

      • wodin says:

        Actually there is a Win exe version that works with Win 7 64 bit…it’s on that page called the Midnight Engine..not sure how completed it is though.

  17. diminish3d says:

    Happy memories of playing his games.

    A sad loss.

  18. JimDiGritz says:

    A sad day.

    Midwinter single-handedly changed my view of games.

  19. Caiman says:

    Very sad, and deep condolences to his family and friends. I never met Mike but like a lot of people his contributions immeasurably changed me for the better. What fantastic memories. I actually remember a lot of the designers from back in the 80s, probably because like much of the Indie scene today these games were the product of a single person. It made it much easier to associate greatness with a name, and follow their work in the future. There is still really nothing like Lords of Midnight, and the design still holds up today. I rarely got sucked into a game’s world as much as I did with that. Thanks Mike.

  20. Jp1138 says:

    Very sad news. It´s strange, but being games a somewaht new medium we are not used to this kind of news, as many of the pioneers are still with us.

    RIP :(

  21. vandinz says:

    RIP MIke, LOVED his games. Oh and FUCK CANCER.

  22. jandek says:

    I just read Eurogamer’s Midwinter retrospective from 2010 and saw this comment:

    “Absolutely bowled over (even more than the Aussie cricket team) by all the praise. But just a little correction – although Carrier Command was also released by Microprose, shortly before Midwinter I think, it wasn’t one of mine! An excellent game though.

    Happy New Year everyone, Mike. ”

    I have to admit it brought a tear to my eye.

  23. FunktionJCB says:

    What sad news. I always enjoyed his works, and The Lords of Midnight is certainly one of the games of my childhood.
    Even last week I mentioned him when talking to a friend on how I would love to see “old school” guys like Mike Singleton, or teams like The Bitmap Brothers back in action, since I believe with their talents and IPs, and a market that is clearly open to “old school” products (like the numerous games using 8-bit/retro aesthetics and the several successful crowd funding campaigns to resurrect old brands have proven), they could successfully commercialize their games. Especially in our current, mostly-digital, gaming marketplace, and with the numerous ways to fund a product currently available to developers, be it crowd funding options, pre-ordering with alpha/beta access, and more.

    RIP :(

  24. Barts says:

    Sad, sad news. I am one of those ex-Spectrum users over 30 and I can’t say enough how impressive Lords of Midnight was back in the day.

    For those younger ones (and those misty-eyed, like me), here is a link explaining how he managed to do this:
    http://www.edge-online.com/features/making-lords-midnight/

    Rest in peace, Mike.

  25. unimural says:

    Some of my earlier gaming memories consist of playing Lords of Midnight with my father and older brother, weekend after weekend. We divided the free lords and lands amongst ourselves, each being responsible for a third. We’d have long strategy discussions during the week, arguments over what to with Morkin or Farflame (the dragon). Then during the weekend we’d try to execute these plans. It took us a long time, but eventually Doomdark was beaten.

    I will forever be grateful for these memories. Rest in peace.

  26. Prime says:

    So very very sad. Midwinter 2: Flames of Freedom was one of my very earliest gaming obsessions, still never equalled to this day. A Legend lost. RIP, Mike.

    • Maxheadroom says:

      I remember in Midwinter 2, if you were captured you had the option the suduce the guard to escape. I owned one of the first copies that contained a bug where you could only suduce people of the same sex.

      Still raises a smile when i think about it

      • Prime says:

        I never heard about that. Awesome. :)

        For me it was the variety of vehicles in the game, including the ones that were hidden just waiting for you to find them. The flying submersible that was parked underwater off one of the islands was amazing.

        If only Just Cause could give players a reason to care about and interact with the people on its lush lands instead of simply providing gun and vehicle fodder…

      • Geen says:

        Ah, I remember that bug. Good times, good times.
        Rest in peace, dear genius game designer.

  27. Optimaximal says:

    Imagine now if someone started a kickstarter for a Midwinter remake. The subtitle could be ‘Singleton’, as both a tribute and reference to the fact you’re alone for most of the game.

    • zoombapup says:

      What a nice thought. I might make a tribute to Mike in my game (which is inspired by Midwinter). I loved Midwinter because it felt like you were part of a bigger world, which for the time was a real feat. These days we have easy 3D rendering and yet sometimes fail to achieve that openness.

      Mike might not be remembered as a person, but I’m sure his games will. Only hope some day I can achieve the same thing.

      RIP.

  28. Bladderfish says:

    I registered just to say this:

    Mike Singleton and Lords of Midnight defined my childhood! 8 will always be north-west to me! 5 will always be south! I actually see directions by their numbers because of the many hours spent playing Lords and Doomdark’s Revenge!

    And does anyone remember Dark Sceptre? A flawed masterpiece. Like all of his games, they stood out from the competition by miles. The man was a genius.

  29. BobsLawnService says:

    Cheers. The man was responsible for many a happy hour in front of the TV with the ZX Spectrum. He’ll always be remembered as one of the great designers.

  30. Totally heterosexual says:

    RIP :(

  31. Kucd says:

    Sad news. I loved Dark Scepter and Lords of Midnight on my Speccy. Truly a legend is now gone. Sad, sad day.

    RIP.

  32. TeraTelnet says:

    RIP, Mike. :(

  33. phlebas says:

    Sad news. He did amazing things with the Spectrum. RIP.
    Shockingly few votes for Midwinter on the GOG wishlist. Can we do something about that?

  34. c-Row says:

    Guess if he hadn’t been a singleton, there might be other instances of him still running now.

    :-(

  35. tigershuffle says:

    RIP…..
    will always have fond memories of colouring in my Lords of Midnight map with my felt tips :)

  36. AngoraFish says:

    RIP :(

  37. brulleks says:

    Lords of Midnight truly pushed the boundaries of what a computer game world could achieve. It was one of the few Spectrum games that came with its own keyboard overlay, so ambitious was it. Dark Sceptre was an eternally fascinating illusion of emergent AI roaming a 3D world in just two dimensions.

    RIP Mike Singleton. Now gaming with the Gods.

  38. Xanadu says:

    RIP Mr Singleton
    Doomdark’s revenge is still one of my all time favourite games, and stands out for pushing the boundaries of what could be done in 48k
    If XCOM can be remade, why not the Midnight games…

  39. harvb says:

    What absolutely epic games, what a thoroughly tragic ending to such an icon of early computer gaming. For those of us oldies who were there at the beginning, his work was real bread and butter stuff. A terrible loss to gaming history. RIP.

  40. Hodge says:

    Only a couple of days ago I was playing War In Middle Earth and wondering what he was up to these days :(.

    RIP Mike.

  41. Synesthesia says:

    RIP, Mister.

    Fuck you, cancer.

  42. Wizlah says:

    Never got round to playing Lords of Midnight, though I remember it was everywhere growing up. But Midwinter was huge for me, absolutely huge. Had some properly epic journeys in that to reach wossisname the hunter who could only by recruited by teh wee lad. Loved hangliding.

    A sad loss.

  43. Artesia says:

    Never had a Spectrum myself, but back in the days I’ve heard about Lords of Midnight. It’s really sad to hear about how yet another talented author have died. RiP.

  44. Harkkum says:

    This was (Doomdark’s Revenge) what I spent my childhood playing; not that I could have understood a word, as, after all, I hardly could read even Finnish back then, but I do recall the mystery of these games. I never figured out what I was supposed to do but sure did I try. Thanks for the great moments.

    • Edgar the Peaceful says:

      Doomdarks Revenge – Reems of graph paper sellotaped together at the edges. Off-school ‘ill’ in order to play :)

  45. kwyjibo says:

    PC Zone once did a Midwinter feature in their “Games that Changed the World” series.

    Does anyone know if that’s online? And if it isn’t, and someone has a copy, can they scan + upload?

  46. Edgar the Peaceful says:

    First Terry Nutkins and now Mike Singleton. Would my childhood please stop disintegrating, or is that what happens in early middle age?

  47. Sinlessmoon says:

    My condolences to his family and friends.

    R.I.P :(

  48. King in Winter says:

    Night has fallen and the Foul are abroad!

    A dark day indeed. Lords of Midnight was one of my most favourite games of the old era, one on which I spent many hours on until I could finally beat Doomdark and his armies. The game managed to recreate an entire world, a land of danger and adventure and war and stories. It is likely responsible for my early interest in more strategic games, which would later lead me to things such as X-COM and Civilization, and on.

    The Lord of Midnight is dead! Long live the Lord of Midnight!

  49. mouton says:

    Fuck cancer

  50. GreatUncleBaal says:

    Fucking hell. Genuinely saddened to hear this news. Lords of Midnight is an absolute stone-cold classic and ate up many hours of my childhood. It’s still (to me) playable enough today – only a couple of months ago I had an Android version running on my phone. Although graphically fairly sparse, there’s something about those icy vistas that fires off the imagination – a genuinely interesting setting. And given the general state of games visually and stylistically at the time, it was fucking mindblowing to see this strategic open-world epic emerge for the Speccy.
    I must admit I didn’t realise he was also the brains behind the Midwinter games – two IPs way ahead of their time. RIP Mike, and thanks for the amazing games.

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